Work Lessons

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.

Henry J. Kaiser

I’ve been working since I was fifteen years old. Evidence can be found in last week’s essay. I spoke about all the good work I’ve done. Satisfying accomplishments. Hard work (not like my father’s work as a truck mechanic or my mother’s as a mother and head of the house work). Our father lectured us often about not wanting us to end up under the truck with grease on our hands (I wonder what truck mechanics make these days?). Our father also taught us the value of hard work, perseverance, and not being a “lazy bum” to use his words. Of course, I’ve often been accused of taking the working hard part a little too seriously. Workaholic. Workhorse. Hustler. The hardest working man in _____(Fill in the blank).

Of course, there is a negative side to working all the time. It’s called no life. However, when I think about all the jobs I’ve held in my fifty-nine years of working, I can honestly say that my values, life philosophy, and my view of the world and people flow from the experiences of work. Whether being a motorcycle courier (short-cuts and strategy of driving on the L.A. Freeways) or being Executive Producer of Live Television (Where do I begin?), I learned valuable work lessons that became the life lessons I use daily.

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

Albert Camus

Those who know me well would be shocked to hear that I once thought of myself as shy. When I was with the education advocacy organization United Bronx Parents in 1968, I would often be asked to call parents to invite them to a rally or a meeting. I would be given a phone list with some written speech I was supposed to read to them. I could not, for the life of me, call someone on the phone to ask them to do something or ask them a question. I swear I would freeze. I could barely dial (rotary phone) the letters and numbers.

A simple call would take minutes instead of a minute. My voice would crack from the nervousness. I don’t know why this happened. It just did. I was nineteen years old. Now, mind you, I didn’t seem to have a problem talking to people in person. I’ve spoken to students at an anti-war rally, so why would I crack under pressure from speaking anonymously to someone on the phone? Of course, with time, the phobia disappeared as I realized that those calls were more than calls. They were part of an essential organizing effort to invite Black and Latino parents to take control of their children’s education (It didn’t mean the same then as it does for some parents now). Lesson learned: confidence to solve a problem and inspire people.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When I was the host of two radio shows at WHUR-FM, Howard University, I spoke to hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, anonymously, and aside from some early technical f*ck-ups, I learned to take those lessons from United Bronx Parents and used that confidence to speak and connect with that audience. I wasn’t afraid to use the platform I had to not only play great Salsa (La Voz del Barrio) and Jazz (Espiritu Libre) but also speak about national and local political issues. It was the early seventies, Nixon was President, and Washington, D.C. was seen as a city without power for its mostly Black residents (The word plantation was often thrown around). But I learned important lessons about organization, communication techniques, and the ability and courage to tackle complex subjects without fear when needed.

To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.

Pearl S. Buck

That confidence would strengthen me when I became a television reporter. I asked challenging questions of politicians, police, cat lovers (I covered more than one pet show), bureaucrats and accused people facing trial. There’s a benefit in learning how to not only speak with and to people but also an ability to read people, body language, the skill to see clearly between the lines, and the strength to call people out when you must.

The most critical skills that came out of the first twenty years of work life in New York and Washington, D.C., was the ability to see, hear, and speak of the world square on. Not to flinch when it seemed hopeless but to keep moving forward, through it, around it, under it, over it if necessary.

And all of this happened before I moved to Los Angeles, California, where I knew one person, and my first job was as a motorcycle courier. Up until that point in 1984, I had never ridden a motorcycle. So I went out and learned how to ride one, got a job, and learned how to get around Metro L.A. to the point that I probably knew more shortcuts than most native Angelenos. I learned not only those shortcuts but also so much more about L.A., the city, the culture, and the people. I began to soak myself in the inspiration of this city.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Bartending? Man, if you deal with a bunch of drunk men and women for two and a half years, you should get a medal and a big ass bonus. I learned about herding cats and manipulating (in a good way) people to trust you with their secrets and big tips.

So, I took all the experiences and skills learned in those first L.A. jobs and everything from my time on the east coast, and I knew I was ready for a television production job. Why? Well, producing is about organization, strategy, confidence, patience, people power, creativity, budgets, negotiation, bribery (okay, maybe not in the strict sense of the word), and calling forth all of that New York attitude (Some might call it cojones) that I could muster to rise from a segment producer to an Executive Producer of Live Events. I could synthesize all those skills into doing my job and still learn how to hone them into new skills about people and life and success and the occasional failure without losing my mind or soul.

The call of the artist is to follow the excitement. Where there’s excitement, there’s energy. And where there is energy, there is light.

Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being

There were plenty of other lessons learned at other jobs not mentioned, but in the end, all this has helped me with my college life (Learning a few things there too). I keep going because the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that for a long time, work was my life, and now my life is work for me. I’m taking all I have learned to learn more. Skills to living a fuller life, a life where just waking up every morning breathing, sober, and ready for the day, is the great lesson I’ve learned.

A Life Full of Good Work

The accompanying photographs are the result of my always-moving eye to document the beauty and complexity of life.

Reporter, WFSB-TV, Hartford, Connecticut

My life partner, Sumire, often teases me that I write too much about the dark side of my life. Even my biography on this website is chock full of negativity. She tells me, “You have a long list of accomplishments. You should write more about them.” Yeah, but what fun is that? No one cares about the happy stuff. In today’s world, it’s all about drama.

But maybe, she has a point. I recently had to submit a resume (I didn’t have a bio handy) for an article that someone was writing about me being an older college student. It was the first time in a long time that I had read it, and I was taken aback by all the career work I’ve done in my life. Good work that impacted me and, hopefully, people I’ve worked alongside. I’ve traveled this country from New York to Washington, D.C., Hartford, Connecticut, Los Angeles, California, and international cities like London, Tokyo, and Cannes, France, fulfilling my work-life dreams. So why not take a moment to be proud of all I’ve done?

Paris, France

For example, during my twenty-plus years at the Los Angeles-based cable network E! Entertainment, I managed, in partnership with others, the growth of E!’s Red Carpet Shows into a major brand and a pop culture icon. Those years at E! were some of the most exciting times in my life. I led a large team of producers, writers, and technical professionals to produce live Big Event television covering the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, Grammys, and Primetime Emmys, as well as movie premieres and the ultimate icon, Fashion Police. I was on the ground floor helping build the network’s live red carpet coverage from a one-camera, one-host, two-hour program into multiple cameras, multiple hosts, and ten-hour live shows. I was an Executive Producer on Fashion Police with the late Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa Rivers. In addition, I worked on international specials, including coverage of the Cannes Film Festival in France. ­

During my early days at E!, I supervised a team of segment producers creating short and long-form television series and specials on various entertainment subjects, including Daytime Emmys, Grammys, Country Music Awards, and Academy Awards.

Near the end of my tenure at E!, I created my own production company, Really Big Boom Productions, with E! Networks as the first client, providing Executive Producer services on the highly rated red carpet shows. Locally, we also created the Color Me Long Beach Cultural Festival.

Seal Beach, California

My work life in media (radio and television) extends back to the east coast from 1972-1978, when I was a television news reporter at WFSB-TV Eyewitness News, Hartford, Connecticut, a radio and television news reporter trainee at WTOP-AM-TV, Washington, D.C., and on-air host and radio producer at WHUR-FM (Howard University’s 50-thousand watt commercial radio station) also in D.C.

Filling in some gaps in my work timeline during the late seventies and early eighties, I was a Public Information Specialist in the Office of Mayor Marion Barry (another story) in Washington, D.C. I followed that up as the Executive Director for the D.C. Cable Television Design Commission, responsible for bringing Cable Television to Washington, D.C.

Paris, France

In recent years, I was the Publisher and Executive Editor of Palacio Magazine, a digital multimedia platform featuring stories about Latinos and other people of color. As if I wasn’t busy enough, I was the Community Engagement Coordinator for VoiceWaves, a journalism and multimedia training program in Long Beach for youth 16-24 years old to produce media content to foster a healthier community. Between gigs, I was a Small Business Advisor at El Camino College Small Business Development Center in Hawthorne, advising emerging and established small businesses regarding website content and multimedia strategies.

Long Beach, California

When I stop and consider that I’ve been working since I was fifteen years old (selling magazine subscriptions, dry cleaners, motorcycle messenger, bartender, airport shuttle driver, Wall Street clerk) and that I am now seventy-four (and still kicking it), there is much to be proud of, including my time on the board of Directors for Leadership Long Beach and the Arts Council for Long Beach. My life partner and I co-founded the arts advocacy group, The Creativity Network, where we helped rewrite the city’s Cultural Master Plan with the Arts Council. The list of good work includes all the volunteer work on the east coast, for example publishing a book of poems by Connecticut-based Puerto Rican poets called Revista and being a part of the first incarnation of the National Latino Media Coalition (Thankfully, it went on to survive in more capable hands. Oops, there’s that negativity again) in Washington, D.C.

Trust me, the list of good work is even longer: doing community work in 1968 in the South Bronx with one of my first mentors, Evelina Antonetty, at United Bronx Parents during the New York Teacher’s strike (hey, got me arrested and I wear it like a badge of honor), guerrilla community television in Washington, D.C. in the days when people didn’t know anything about portable video, the late great National Puerto Rican advocacy organization La Causa Comun, the Booker T. Washington Foundation with a man who taught me so much, the late Charles Tate.

Signal Hill, California

I’m writing about this not to inflate my ego but to recognize that despite all the misadventures in my life, I’ve done more good than bad. Life is full of ups and downs, but we can survive the heartaches if we just put our heads down and move forward with good people around us.

As I prepare to head into the last year of my eight-year college journey to a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Long Beach, I take pride that at my age, I’m still kicking and wanting more from an already full life of good work. I will be seventy-five years old when I graduate, and I intend to go for a post-graduate degree because I haven’t been able to come up with a good reason why not. I plan to keep pushing because it’s who I am. As I often say, “Eat Life like you’re starving. You may feel full at the end of the day, but damn, it tasted good.”

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